You have handed in your notice at work and dropped everything to begin backpacking the world. It’s time to plan your trip, pack your bags, and see the world as your oyster. All of a sudden, fear sets in. Where do you want to go? What do you need? Will you be able to handle it? What will it be like? Will you be homesick?
Now before I continue, I will say that this article makes me out as a hypocrite. I pretty much did all of the mistakes I talk about below. But dear reader, I hope you can learn from my mistakes and take my advice when you begin your adventure backpacking the world.
Before you set off, there a few things you need to do:
Documents That You’ll Need When Backpacking the World
The all-important documents, with the passport(s) as the most important one. Now, before I begin this section, I want to admit that I made this fatal error. Before I set off on my backpacking endeavors, I did not renew my own passport. I had believed that I was only going to travel for two months… I ended up being gone for six months. This was one of the biggest reasons why I cut my trip short.
Make sure your passport is valid with sufficient time to extend your trip if you wanted to. I would recommend ensuring that your passport doesn’t expire at least a year beyond your planned return date. That’s if you want to return…
Take any and all identification with you: ID cards, driving licences, etc. This can come in handy in the most unexpected situations. If there is an emergency or if you need some way to prove your identity, an ID can quickly resolve the situation – even if there’s a language barrier.
Other Documents You Might Have Forgotten
An International Driving Permit (IDP) is not vital, but very useful, especially when backpacking the world. A lot of countries, especially in Asia, have very lax scooter/moped/motorbike regulations. In places with relaxed driving laws, you don’t necessarily need an IDP when renting bikes. However, if you have neither an IDP nor a motorbike licence, you may be left open to arrest and/or a hefty fine. These situations might require you to bribe a police officer, depending on where you are. Unfortunately, there are still some corrupt police officers out there. You can apply through your local driving agency. For example, I applied at the British Post Office.
Some countries and/or regions also require a Yellow Fever certificate to enter. Even if it is not required, I recommend obtaining the vaccination and its certificate just in case! Don’t let ignoring a vaccine prevent you from an incredible experience.
The best way to check if you need a visa before you travel is through your country’s Foreign Office/State Department. Alternatively, you can contact the embassy or consulate of the country you are about to visit as well.
When I think of vaccinations, I think of them as queasy, unsettling, costly, and, let’s be honest, not enjoyable. However, they are very necessary for your health abroad and backpacking the world. As mentioned previously, some countries require certification of certain vaccines, such as yellow fever, before they allow any visitors to enter. There are other vaccines that are also strongly recommended when travelling abroad, such as the typhoid vaccine, the hepatitis A vaccine, etc. Depending on which country you are reading this from, the prices of the vaccination and administration do vary. For more information on vaccines, please consult your local health authorities and your local doctor before travelling.
I cannot stress having the appropriate vaccinations before you begin backpacking the world or travelling abroad. I have personally dealt with vaccinations abroad and have heard others’ many horror stories. Not only can it be a challenge when it came to receiving treatment, but also when figuring out payment. Paying for vaccines abroad is important to think about, especially if you do not ensure adequate travel insurance.
One of the last tips on any backpacker’s advice list is travel insurance. Some backpackers decide to take the chance, not seeing insurance as necessary. However, if you do choose to forgo travel insurance, you run the risk of receiving hefty prices for treatment abroad. Not only does travel insurance protect you from any serious financial hits in the case of emergency, but it can also give you peace of mind while having fun on your adventure.
Travel insurance has a bunch of fine print. Make sure you read what your insurance actually covers. Many insurance companies do not cover activities such as scooter/moped rentals and ‘extreme sports’. Read it a couple of times to make sure you understand what your insurance will cover. This way, you won’t be surprised if something does happen and you aren’t covered. Knowing what your insurance does and does not cover could influence decisions you make abroad.
So You Think You Are Ready To Travel
So you have finished getting your vaccinations, your travel documents, and your travel insurance. Now what?
I would recommend doing a bit of research on the country you’ve decided to visit first. This way, you can be aware of their local customs, laws, appropriate clothing, any potential scams, currency, public transport, and safety. Personally, I found Lonely Planet a great help in regards to finding out vital information about the country I was about to visit. You can also buy Lonely Planet books in most bookshops. Trip Advisor was also helpful in regards to this, especially in prioritising the sights I wanted to see. I would also check with your government’s to learn more about the country you are about to visit.
Recommended Apps & Websites
If you are trying to escape all the modern mod-cons of the 21st Century, you may be disappointed that even in far-flung corners modern technology is not far from one’s pocket. However, you will be glad to hear there are still many remote and ‘untouched’ areas where there is little or no evidence of modern 21st Century life. Regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a technophile or technophobic, there are a few really useful apps to download for backpackers:
- Maps.me – Mobile offline maps. This app allows you to download offline maps of the regions you are about to visit. In some areas, it can be more accurate than Google Maps.
- There are now apps where you can transfer money easily from your phone. These apps connect directly to your home bank account with no withdrawal fees. They use the account’s debit card to make card payments abroad and can withdraw money from most local ATM machines. It’s important to note, however, that there can be limits to the amount of money you’re able to withdraw per month. Apps such as Starling Bank, Monzo, and Revolut are all good options.
- Although Uber is now known across the globe, some countries tend to have their own cheaper and more popular rideshare apps. An example of this is Grab (South East Asia) or Ola (India). This, of course, depends on the country you’re visiting.
Apps for Booking
- Scan websites such as Agoda, Booking.com, and Hostelworld for the best deals on rooms and accomodations. To learn more about booking rooms abroad, check out Morgan’s Guide to Hotels, Hostels, and Accomodations Abroad. I also found that in some countries (such as India) there was an ‘online’ price and a price you haggle on arrival. This was, usually a price difference of about. 15%, which I believe can be attributed to the cut these websites took per booking. If you choose not to book online ahead of time, you run the risk of arriving a hostel or hotel only to find it’s been fully booked, leaving you searching for another place to spend the night. These websites can also help in finding great deals. For example, in Asia, hostel prices tended to vary between $3 to $8 USD.
- For cheap plane tickets check websites such as Skyscanner, Ryanair, Easyjet, Air Asia, and Secret Flying. These websites have great deals and can get you where you need to go.
- Annoyingly, most countries, especially when travelling by air, want proof of exit. This can be challenging if you do not know which country you will be going to after. Fortunately, Expedia (for some flights) has a 24-hour free cancellation policy.
- Some countries have a “visa-on-arrival” policy. Laos was one such country as I was on my journey abroad. Make sure you carry a sufficient amount of USD cash.
- Buy a local SIM card. As much as I would like to think that I can do without mobile data, it does make life easier. You can buy SIM cards usually at an airport. However, you can usually buy cheaper SIM cards in phone shops in towns and cities. Be aware that countries such as India are very bureaucratic and the process of getting a SIM card can be a bit lengthy.
Once You Get There
- Personally, I’ve found that the best way to find out the best places to visit, eat, and drink are by asking the locals. Talk to the people who work at your hostel/hotel. Also, ask fellow travellers places they have visited while they were in the area.
- If you are reading this from a ‘western’ country and are travelling to a ‘developing country,’ it is, unfortunately, true that water and some hygiene standards are not what they are back home. I recommend easing your way into the thick of things by being careful of what you drink and especially eat. Look to see if the restaurant or food stand is clean and hygienic.
- Eat street food! This is far cheaper and a better option as far as local flavors go. Not only does the food have a bit of local flair, but it and often supports small business owners.
- Always carry toilet paper! Not all toilets have toilet paper or even have western-style toilet seats. Always be prepared. Toilet paper can be bought in most convenience stores.
What to Pack When Backpacking the World
- Pack light. Depending on the weather in the countries you are going to visit, you only need a few days’ worth of clothes. Anything you need, you can always buy abroad. If you’re going to a hot country as I did, you’ll only need about 4 shirts, 2 shorts, socks, boxers, and maybe a pair of jeans. Think of the weight of your backpack while you’re packing. The heavier your backpack, the more weight you have to constantly carry around!
- Before I set off on my journey, I believed that the standard of medicine abroad would not be of the same standard as home. To prepare, I bought loads of pharmaceutical products that quite frankly I didn’t need! While mosquito repellent and Imodium are definitely a necessity, everything else can be bought while abroad for a cheaper price.
- Buy a travel towel! Easy to carry, fast to dry, lighter and easier to pack!
- Bring a water bottle with a filter. If you drink the same amount of water as I do, you may be out of reach of bottled water and will need a backup pretty quickly. Also, it will probably save you from a few unwanted illnesses.
If you believe I have missed anything please leave a comment in the comments section.
Have safe and enjoyable travels backpacking the world!